After the '4th weekend', there was just about enough time to visit 12 Bones Smokehouse in Asheville before my temporary team mates left the tour. The place was busy for a Monday and there was plenty on offer. Unusually for North Carolina, all BBQ meats (beef, pork and chicken) were available with some interesting flavours...I tried some blueberry chipotle ribs: not bad at all. The brisket however, was nothing to compare with Texas which I should have known. It was being really badly hidden as well - thinly sliced, brushed with a glaze. I mean, you don't have to be a qualified BBQ judge to spot these things, but it sure helps.
My next BBQ took me to the town of Flat Rock near Hendersonville, to a place called the Flat Rock Wood Room, where I had some great ribs and sausage. Spoke to the owner Wayne Blessing who was a great guy. He and his wife Kim have won plenty of competitions in their time so it was really interesting to talk about contest tips and what does/doesn't translate to a restaurant environment. Wayne and Kim have a huge RV which they take to contests which also houses their 'gravity feed' smoker. It is a pretty cool way to spend 25 weekends a year, driving around the country in a pimp RV cooking BBQ, and hopefully winning some cash.
After a quick trip to Tipton's Barbecue in Wilkesboro I decided to fast track the central Piedmont region of the state and get stuck into some Eastern style NC 'cue in and around Raleigh. One of the most famous NC barbecue joints is undoubtedly The Skylight Inn in Ayden and it was one of the first places I read about in Michael Polan's book Cooked. The place has been around since 1947 with the current pitmaster racking up 35 years at the last count. They cook 6-7 whole hogs a day and they cook over oak and pecan in brick smokehouse-style smokers. Nuff said.
It reminded me of the meat market places of Lockhart, TX (see Episode 1: Austin and beyond) in that as well as being old and famous, it is really just a straight-up authentic BBQ joint. There's a guy on the service pass who stands over a butchers block with a meat cleaver in each hand and essentially batters the cooked pork like a rock and roll drummer. A local source told me he has a tattoo on his arm that reads: 'CHOPPER', not a guy to mess with I dare say. The manager, Chase, gave me a full tour of the pits bore the brunt of my questions. Fair to say that all the people I've met in North Carolina have been really friendly and Chase was no exception.